Energy

Stockholm is considered the world's most sunlight-deprived capital - in November of 2014 the Swedes living there had just a few hours of the stuff and in winter months, it will get dark at 3 PM anyway, so if the sun is hidden by clouds, it can be a real downer. 

Yet not everywhere in Sweden is so bleak. Because there are so few solar laboratories in the world, KTH Royal Institute of Technology reasoned that Stockholm was the perfect place to build one and in there, the future is bright 24 hours a day.
Harvesting sunlight is old technology for plants but it's a level of efficiency in solar energy we would love to be within a billion years of - artificial photosynthesis is needed if we want to go beyond the energy density of things like combustion engines. 

Electric cars are fine for people who have another car as a back-up or who only make short trips or who are not afraid of a little charge rage in the office parking lot.

For everyone else, electric cars only work if they are heavily subsidized. 

To become mainstream, and not just toys for elites like a Tesla, batteries need to get battery or they need to be leased. Otherwise, they remain in the realm of well-connected CEOs who get gigantic government subsidies to set up shop - like Tesla. 


The debate over wind turbines is heated, so it's best to rely on solid science. Fir0002/Flagstaffotos/Wikimedia Commons, CC BY-NC

By Jacqui Hoepner, Australian National University and Will J Grant, Australian National University

Sometimes the whole is greater than the sum of its parts, said Aristotle. That certainly applies to biology, where molecular motions in living systems have a macroscale effect - such as large muscles that contract due to protein motors.

A team at CNRS's Institut Charles Sadron led by Nicolas Giuseppone, professor at the Université de Strasbourg has  used this concero to make a polymer gel that is able to contract through the action of artificial molecular motors. When activated by light, these nanoscale motors twist the polymer chains in the gel, which as a result contracts by several centimeters. Another advantage is that the new material is able to store the light energy absorbed. 
In the future, if we use money to fund basic research for solar and stop subsidizing existing technology that does not work very well, there will be no energy crisis. In the time it takes you to read this article, the sun will provide enough energy to power the planet for a year.

But that does not translate to everything.  An international group of scientists has noted once again that "renewable" is not synonymous with "unlimited."

Biofuels have long been studied and, like many alternative fuels, given corporate subsidies by the government, but they haven't made much progress. And that isn't just because subsidies discourage innovation, it is because of biology. Lignin, which helps cell walls thick in plants, is tough.

Plant geneticists have discovered the gene regulatory networks that control cell wall thickening by the synthesis of the cellulose, hemicellulose and lignin.  If they can know it, and understand it, they can modify it, and that may mean viable biofuels.


A thin sheet of graphene wrapped around a new multifunctional sulfur electrode that combines an energy storage unit and electron/ion transfer networks could lead to a promising design for rechargeable lithium-sulfur batteries.

Lithium-sulfur batteries are of great commercial interest because they boast theoretical specific energy densities considerably greater than those of their already-well-established cousin, lithium ion batteries. And we clearly need battery improvements, there hasn't been anything substantial for 25 years.


Windows with transparent photovoltaic modules or façades in which microalgae are being bred to provide the house with its own biofuel are just some of the aspects buildings of the future could feature. 

A new international research effort, coordinated by  Friedrich Schiller University in Jena’s materials scientist Lothar Wondraczek, is aiming to change this. In the project ‘Large-Area Fluidic Windows – LaWin’ the scientists intend to develop functional façades and window modules, together with an integrated production process to achieve an as to yet unmatched readiness to market.

Though the New York governor recently made a pretense of banning fracking in the state (it was already not allowed) and the California governor said they should do the same thing, they're both being a little hypocritical. New York would have brown-outs without the energy they buy from Pennsylvania fracking and California has no fracking and 50 percent higher utility costs than the rest of the country because they subsidize alternatives and have to buy so heavily on the spot market.

American CO2 levels are down and while some contend it is more due to federal economic mismanagement and unemployment than cleaner natural gas, emissions from coal, the dirtiest energy source, are back at early 1980s, and natural gas gets credit for that.